Celts Seek Antidote to Milwaukee's Stingy Interior Defense

BOSTON – Brad Stevens and the Celtics knew heading into the Eastern Conference Semifinals that their opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, owned the top defense in the league at the rim. So far in the series, Boston hasn’t figured out a way to combat that trend.

A key factor to the Celtics falling behind 2-1 in the series Friday night was their inability to score with any level of efficiency at the rim. Boston shot just 9-for-19 from inside of five feet, good for a of 47.4 percent conversion rate.

To put that into perspective, 29 of the 30 NBA teams shot 52.4 percent or better from inside of five feet during the regular season.

Boston knows that in order to be successful in this series, it will need to create more quality looks at the basket. Stevens said Saturday afternoon that the only way to do so is by moving the ball at an elite rate.

“One of the things that we just have to do as a team is just make those right reads off the first drive, and then go from there,” Stevens commented. “But we do have to do a better job of getting the ball to the second side of the floor, to the third side of the floor, and hopefully that includes as many paint attacks as possible.”

Stevens explained why failing to do so plays right into Milwaukee’s defensive hands.

“This is what they do,” said Stevens. “They sink back into the paint – not sink back, they’re aggressive – but if it’s on the first side of the floor or before the ball moves to the other side, it’s hard to create a good look at the rim.”

One of the few players on Boston’s squad who can create a good look at the rim without the aid of ball movement is Kyrie Irving. The All-Star point guard accounted for three of Boston’s nine makes from inside of five feet. The problem is he needed seven attempts to make those three shots, and two of his four turnovers were on drives to the basket.

Following Game 3, Irving put the onus on himself to create – and to finish – at a higher rate at the rim.

“I gotta be more efficient, especially when I’m getting downhill on those switches,” he said. “I’ve got to punish those guys. It’s as simple as that.”

Irving continued, saying, “I gotta do what I’m really great at, and that’s getting downhill and making plays and getting to the rim and dishing out. But when I get a big on me and I see those guys with slow feet, I’ve gotta go right at them.”

The Celtics were at their best during Game 1 when Irving did exactly that. He shot 5-for-8 from inside of five feet during that game, and Boston won by 22 points. He followed that performance up by shooting a combined 5-for-12 from the same distance during losses in Games 2 and 3.

Even if Irving gets back to his Game 1 ways, he shouldn’t be relied upon to lead the Celtics to a victory all by himself. The rest of the team needs to join him by moving the ball at an elite rate and forcing the Bucks to shift from side to side.

That’s the formula Stevens believes is the antidote to Milwaukee’s stingy interior defense. That’s the formula that the Celtics hope will tie this Conference Semifinals series up at 2-2 by the end of Monday night.


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